A capsule wardrobe is nothing new. The term was coined back in the 1980s by Susie Faux, the West End boutique owner who introduced her clients to minimalist brands like Jil Sander, while Donna Karan popularised the idea in the USA in ‘85 with her Seven Easy Pieces. In 2014, Unfancy founder Caroline Rector reinvigorated buzz for the concept when she posed the idea of a 37-piece capsule, just as Marie Kondo’s decluttering method was shaking up wardrobes the world over. The notion of a refined and utilitarian collection of clothing, of creating the maximum number of outfits from as few items as possible, is a familiar one.
Now, though, its appeal is greater than ever. After years of living through a fast-moving carousel of disposable trends, many of us are keen to recalibrate our relationship with fashion. To acknowledge which of our clothes we really, truly love and which were bought to secure a quick and dirty serotonin hit in the shadow of TikTok's comparison culture, fuelled by the ease of same-day delivery. For others, the cost of living has left little room for the effort and energy required to pull together a playful outfit. With heavier burdens weighing on our minds, functionality is often the biggest draw when choosing what to wear each day.
"People are starting to rethink their relationship with clothing and [...] more time is being spent organising and decluttering as well as learning how to create a streamlined wardrobe," says personal stylist Eunice Abe of the surge in interest for capsule wardrobes. Donating, selling or gifting items which no longer fit into your life is a great way to save them from landfill but the aim isn’t to mindlessly purge your wardrobe and start anew. It's about whittling it down to a selection of thought-out pieces that will help you to resist the pull of passing trends. "Building a capsule wardrobe made up of core items not only helps me shop less and rewear my pieces over and over again," Eunice says, "but also to not shop impulsively for the 'next best thing' to wear."
At the core of a capsule wardrobe is the idea that its contents transcend passing trends but, of course, it will mean different things to different people. If monochrome and minimalism isn’t your flavour, a capsule wardrobe bursting with print and colour is just as valuable — so long as each piece can be worn in multiple ways. Fine-tune your wardrobe so that you’re wearing what you own as much as possible, so that each piece stands the test of time and serves a functional but joyful purpose in your life. What it looks like is up to you.
Below, we’ve found the best pieces for a traditional capsule wardrobe, from spring-ready light layers to Breton striped tees.
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The black rollneck
From Audrey Hepburn to Steve Jobs to the stereotypical Parisian or beatnik-inspired creative, the turtleneck has stood the test of time for good reason. Layer yours under white workwear shirts and crewneck knits or wear tucked into straight-leg denim.
The plain white tee
If you can avoid spillages and stains, the plain white tee is your hardest working piece — just ask James Dean, Jane Birkin and Pam Grier. We're teaming ours with black blazers, gold jewellery and straight-leg denim but it works with just about anything, from slip skirts to high-waisted shorts.
The straight-leg jean
Jeans silhouettes fluctuate — goodbye skinny, hello kick-flare — but the straight leg remains a constant, no matter which way the pendulum swings.
The crewneck knit
The crewneck knit is a timeless classic with a neckline that lends itself to different necklace lengths. Don't feel wedded to a neutral tone if it's not a colour you'd choose to wear but do explore the cut's styling possibilities: we're wearing ours with big collar blouses and turtlenecks while it's chilly and over slip dresses come spring.
The practical shoe
Lace-up leather shoes or classic loafers aren't for everyone but if a smarter style works for your wardrobe, the styling solutions are endless. We enjoy them paired with colourful socks and tailored trousers, with patterned tights and a miniskirt, with black socks and a minidress, and with straight-leg jeans and a turtleneck.
The Breton tee
The Brittany-born striped top has been synonymous with French style ever since Coco Chanel turned the fisherman's staple into a fashion favourite. Tuck into tailored trousers or denim and top off with black lace-up shoes or white kicks.
Whether you go for chunky or subtle, yellow or pale-toned, gold jewellery is a perennial classic. It's at its strongest against a block-coloured background like a white tee or black rollneck.
Loungewear may not have appeared in traditional capsule wardrobes but if the last few years have taught us one thing about getting dressed, it's that comfort is a top priority. Whether you go for a coordinating set or sling a classic grey marl sweatshirt over your denim, make room for the newest addition to your wardrobe.
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The crossbody bag
Handbag trends fluctuate, from XXL totes to itsy-bitsy micro bags, but the benefits of going hands-free are perennial. Make sure it fits all your essentials and check the fastening is secure enough to make you feel comfortable.
The oversized button-down shirt
Whether you nab a vintage linen number from the men's section of your local charity shop or borrow from your dad/brother/boyfriend, an oversized button-down shirt will last forever. Wear over rollnecks or under oversized knits in winter and over slip dresses, swimsuits and tucked into Bermuda shorts come summer. If you're looking for a high street option, H&M does the best.
The black ankle boot
No matter your style of choice — hiker, Chelsea, monkey, lug sole or heeled — there's a black ankle boot to suit everyone.
The knitted dress
Comfortable enough that you can hit the sofa but smart enough that you feel presentable for work calls with your boss. Layer over a rollneck now and team with gold or silver jewellery and sandals when spring (finally) arrives.
The summer sandal
Beyond the trainer revival, nowhere has the shift towards comfort-first been seen more than in sandals. Birkenstock has the lion's share here, with its two-strap Arizona style dominating every season (with a fresh pedi for summer and chunky socks for winter), but Teva sandals are also a worthy investment. You can wear both from the pool to a sunny plaza in styles that won't date.
The trench coat
The trench coat needs no introduction. Though the classic belted style is perfect for those wanting a defined silhouette, we're loving the loose-fitting designs from AllSaints, & Other Stories and Cos. Wear yours with everything from midi dresses and boots to tailored trousers and tees.
The tailored trouser
Thanks to a slew of contemporary brands, tailored trousers have thrown off their stuffy and restrictive connotations. Go suited and booted if you please but a pair of tailored trousers looks as good with a white tee and gold jewellery as it does with a crewneck knit.
If gold isn't your thing, simple silver pieces work equally well with just about everything in your wardrobe, from delicate pendants to no-need-to-take-them-out sleeper hoops.
The leather jacket
Whether you want to emulate a Matrix-inspired cyberpunk or channel your inner Rebel Without A Cause, leather jackets are more adaptable than you might think. Vintage is best — they get softer with age and there are tons waiting for a new home — but the high street has some fantastic biker silhouettes at lower price points, too.
The tank top
Thanks to the '90s revival, the humble tank top has enjoyed a renaissance of late. Now a summer staple, we wear ours with boxer shorts in bed, with slip skirts and mules for balmy evenings and with straight-leg jeans and gold jewellery for a throwback look.
The white trainer
However you get your kicks, there's a white trainer for you. A sporty design that is comfort-first? You can't go wrong with FitFlop's new F-Mode design. Retro-inspired? Look to Converse All Stars or adidas Sambas. For sustainable options, Veja and Good News hit the spot, and non-branded options come from Saye, Studio Nicholson and Novesta. The more worn, the better — there's no trick to styling this perennial classic.
The black coat
There are plenty of coat styles that never age, from a navy peacoat to a khaki parka. If you're looking for something to survive every winter without being too trend-dominated, may we suggest a black coat. Whether you opt for double-breasted wool, quilted and collarless or fuzzy faux fur, as long as you'll get substantial wear out of it in winter, and it'll protect you from the cold, it's a forever piece for sure.
Invest in a quality pair of slippers or house shoes. We promise — you and your toasty toes won't regret it.